Will ESG Kill Our Planet?

Truth is under attack. The weapons blamed include a fragmented internet, social media platforms and dysfunctional political systems but let’s not go woke, let’s wake up. Deep breaths…but I’m now going to coin a US gun lobby phrase, “Guns don’t kill people – people kill people”. There it is, the scourge of modern political engagement – the data-demolished lie wrapped up in an undisputed truth. However, in the case of the battle for Truth I’m beginning to wonder are we going a bit easy on our fellow humans. Do we need to conjure up our inner-Suella and ruthlessly call out dreadful human beings rather than their linguistic weapons?

They say don’t shoot the messenger (figuratively only!) but then I saw DUP MP, Gregory Campbell, in Westminster this week expressing his outrage at “multi-millionaire lefty (Gary) Lineker” for criticizing the UK government’s Illegal Immigration Bill. A quick glance at Gregory’s career of dinosaur-denial, LGBTQ intolerance, Brexit bluster and female healthcare repression suggests his “win” ratio in the history books will be challenging. And, that’s before we consider my personal favourite – his 2021(yes!!!!) social media outburst complaining about too many black people appearing on an edition of BBC’s “Songs of Praise”. Christ almighty. If only it was just BBC football commentators and religious programmes under attack.

Worryingly, the truth about sustaining life on this planet is increasingly being challenged. However, there may just be a small sliver of hope that a simple life hack might work to save the day. I’m thinking we pay a bit more attention to the people rather than their words sowing doubt and ultimate destruction. Bluntly, we need to highlight individuals’ track records on important issues. Or, as it was once put to one of Gregory’s DUP colleagues, Sammy Wilson, when challenged on their years and years of abysmal analysis of all things Brexit…. “do you ever consider you’re working for the other side?”. Beautiful. Now, for the ugly stuff and the weaponizing of sustainability and ESG as a polarizing issue. There have been some worrying new developments in the world of ESG but the people involved will be as familiar as their perennial appearance on the wrong side of eventual truths.

Presidential wannabe and Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, has been in the forefront of the fight against “woke” ESG. In the past month DeSantis introduced legislation which will bar fund managers for state and local government investments from considering ESG factors. That might not sound as weird as his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation limiting LGBTQ discussion in schools or the emptying of books from school library shelves under the HB 1467 law. This legislation threatens felony prosecution for any inappropriate books falling into the hands of minors, and has resulted in libraries closing as thousands of books are reviewed and vetted under incredibly vague parameters. The cost to children’s education is impossible to calculate but the ESG cost is beginning to hit home. Texas and its fossil-fueled legislature began its assault on ESG in 2022 banning Citigroup, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs from bond sales in the state. Now, according to a paper by University of Pennsylvania professor, Daniel Garrett, municipal borrowers in Texas are paying as much as $532 million more in financing costs due to its self-imposed buyer sanction. Before you say Brexit, say Kansas. And you really don’t want to wish you were back there any time soon.

As a bottom 10 ranked Red state in the US for healthcare we already know Kansas is not great at keeping its citizens alive. Unless, they are unborn. The Republican conservative state attempted to reverse female healthcare rights on abortion through a constitutional referendum in August 2022 but suffered a humiliating 60% rejection at the polls. Undeterred, the state has found a new way to damage its citizens’ health, even kill them. Yep, the Kansas Attorney General, Kris Kobach, has proudly proposed “the strongest anti-ESG bill in the country” which will not only target investment companies using ESG factors but has gone full metal jacket on companies trying to do good. Kansas will require its retirement pension funds to sell shares of any companies who engage in “idealogical boycotts”. In other words, companies who have voluntarily chosen not to deal with non-compliant ESG counterparties in their supply chain could be removed from pension investment portfolios. The cost? Well, that will be incurred by pensioners and citizens already starved of healthcare funding. The budget division of Kansas (KPERS) sees pension returns being reduced by 0.85% per annum. That sounds like a small percentage but it amounts to $3.6 billion over the next ten years. The good news is the truth, or the numbers, are building. In Indiana a potentially similar anti-ESG rule was estimated to blow a $7 billion hole in the state budget over ten years.

Republican strategists seem to think the ESG issue is an effective way to stir up the Fox cult but, like gun controls, the awkward evidence of destruction is increasingly difficult to ignore. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, warned this week that climate change was already taking a significant toll on the US economy. The standout statistic for me was that the US economy in the past 5 years has experienced an average 18 disasters per year costing more than $1 billion. That compares to an average of 8 disasters per year over the last 40 years. Back in Florida, Hurricane Ian in October 2022 inflicted $60 billion of damage but Governor DeSantis was able “to put politics aside” and request Federal aid of more than $3 billion. Ahh… the hypocrisy. In 2013 post-Hurricane Sandy Governor D(or ‘Tiny D’ per the Donald) was one of 67 Republican Congressmen to vote against a $9.7 billion federal aid package for Sandy victims. However, if you’re looking human beings devoid of any principles let’s head to West Virginia.

West Virginia Attorney General, Patrick Morrissey, wants to stop “the war on coal” and “overreaching federal agencies” and is gearing up for a run as senator or governor. To achieve his personal aims Morrissey is targeting ESG as “woke wars intensify” in his campaign materials. Now, check out the messenger. West Virginia has long been one of the worst hit states in the opioid crisis and Morrissey himself was a lobbyist for pharma companies in Washington DC in the 2004-2012 period. Healthy ambition, for Patrick. But, not for West Virginia which according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) is the unhealthiest state in America, ranking worst for disease prevalence and mortality rate with the highest diabetes rates, highest drug overdose death rates and lowest life expectancy at birth. Oh, and if you survive childhood you can look forward to marrying early. Very early. The Republican dominated Senate Judiciary Committee of West Virginia has just rejected a bill prohibiting minors(under 16) from getting married. Depressing stuff.

On a more upbeat note, the weaponization of ESG by power-hungry individuals brings a much bigger weapon into play. There is $35 trillion of capital following ESG principles and that quantum of financial power can exert real market pressure on malevolent politics. The hope must be that “freedom”, “safety” child “protection” and “health” will ultimately deliver the Truth rather than the personal ambitions of the likes of Gregory, Boris, Sammy, Ron, Donald, Suella, Marjorie and Patrick. The clue is that all these charlatans have already been on the wrong side of the data denial on multiple issues. However, this time the stakes are much higher. If ESG becomes a debate or a weapon, we are all dead.



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